In 1991, Roy Ernest, professor at Eastman School of Music, had a vision that retirees could make music instead of sitting in front of the TV, waiting to die.
Starting with 40 members, the Eastman Rochester New Horizons Band since expanded to include a beginning band and beginning orchestra, concert and symphonic bands, strings and full orchestra, choir, two dance bands and multiple small ensembles. New Horizons musicians are busy each week rehearsing, practicing at home, taking private lessons, mentoring children and playing at community gigs.
The New Horizons concept expanded beyond Greater Rochester to cities and areas of the U.S., Canada, Italy, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Behind the scenes, academic and medical researchers use the network of senior musicians to collect geriatric data about aging, the effects of playing music and how its inherent social aspects contribute to the aging process and living well.
In the Rochester New Horizons organization, pianist Simone Girard has a lung capacity of 75 percent and, on the recommendation of her doctor, started learning the clarinet in New Horizons Beginning Band to improve her numbers.
Steve Whitman, tuba player, and Bill Pierce, trumpet player, both were diagnosed with cancer, returned to rehearsals as soon as they could and play in multiple ensembles. Pierce and Whitman found healing in doing what they love — making music.
Cathy Dayan, who plays saxophone and gave up her driver’s license because she is visually impaired, attends rehearsals with the help of friends and rider services.
Betty Marie Wilson, 91, has sung since age 8 and started dancing at 53. She gave up dancing at 80 when she developed neurological problems with her legs, but she can still sing. She performs with New Horizons Chorus and another community group.
New Horizons members, as with the general aging population, cope with loss, grief and changes in their life circumstances, but making music is one positive element in their lives that is a constant, providing social, intellectual and physical stimulation.
Originally founded as a musical group for seniors to learn or resume music, New Horizons welcomes members of all ages.
New Horizons’ members are preparing to perform at Eastman School of Music, 26 Gibbs St., Rochester, in annual spring concerts and at Eastman Community Music School’s annual SpringFest.
Shows scheduled for May 24 in Kilbourn Hall include a chamber ensemble concert from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., Beginning Band from 7 to 8 p.m. and a vintage jazz concert from 7:45 to 8:45 p.m.
Beginning Strings, String Orchestra and Full Orchestra will perform from 7 to 9 p.m. on May 25 in Kodak Hall. Concert Band, Symphonic Band and Combined Band will perform from 7 to 9 p.m. on May 29 in Kodak Hall.
Big Band and Chorus will perform from 6 to 7 p.m. on May 31 in Kilbourn Hall.